Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

“Power and wisdom are born of trauma.” Mockingbird is the story of a young woman who is gifted, if one could say so, with a weird kind of power, a power that feels to her more of a curse than a blessing.

This is the story of Miriam Black, who’s a psychic. When she touches somebody she can see how and when he or she is going to die. For quite some time now she’s been living in a trailer park with her best friend and occasional lover, one-eyed Louis.

Miriam is a very unhappy woman. She tries hard to adapt in a life that really doesn’t suit her. Being normal is not something she can make happen, not when she can sense things the way she does. “She wants to go home. If only she knew what that really meant.”

Louis is trying to bring some balance in her life, make her realize that if she tries hard enough she can become happy, or at least, kind-of-happy, but she knows all too well that that’s not true and she snaps at him: “You want me to be someone I’m not.”

She’s sick of her everyday life, so she decides to leave and “commit to her lack of commitment.” She’s not afraid of the life on the road, she’s tough, she can handle any situation; she cannot listen to Louis and his down-to-earth logic and get stack in that place anymore.

The road though is long and the first car that stops to pick her up belongs to no one else but Louis himself. They travel together for awhile, they fight, she gets off the car and then they meet again. And it’s exactly then that she’s convinced to follow him to a boarding school to meet a teacher, who feels certain that she’s going to die soon. The woman is willing to pay Miriam just to tell her if she’s right.

However, when she gets there, things start to get really complicated, because she has a very bad feeling about the place. She may be “a poison pill,” as she calls herself, but she doesn’t like to see people die, especially young people. She’s quite certain that there’s at least a murderer loose on the premises and she’s determined to find out who that is and save the victims’ lives.

Of course that will not prove such an easy thing to do. She’ll find obstacles rising in her way time and again, she’ll have to fight her inner demons and the evil of men, and she’ll even have to confront her own past in order to make sense of the things that bother her.

Hers will be a long and dangerous journey, but as she’s, at some point, going to find out she’s not alone in this. The teacher, whose worst fears, or rather hopes she confirmed, will be there to give her a hand and so will be Louis – always her friend, until the very end.

“The only way to divert death is to give it a life,” we read. And Miriam is determined to do just that; to sacrifice the guilty in order to save the innocents. But, will she make it? And if she does, will that help her find some sort of peace within herself?

A great novel that combines the genres of urban fantasy and crime fiction and which gives the reader quite a few thrills with its twists and turns, as well as some rare moments of pure poetry and magic. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review: Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen

I’ve really enjoyed Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen for more than one reasons. The plot is great, the characters masterfully drawn, the subject matter difficult and deeply humane, and when it comes to the sort of unusual family of the Rizzolis, absolutely funny.

This is the story of three children who are connected in a unique way: their parents have been killed some time ago, and so did their foster parents recently. This is the story of Claire, a girl of thirteen, who took a bullet in the head and survived, and “did not know where she belonged”; of Teddy, who’s kind of weird, but that’s only because he has Asperger’s syndrome; and of Will, who likes doing nothing more than looking at the night sky and searching to find a new comet, which he’ll name Neil, to honor the memory of his late father.

These three children were hit by tragedy twice and somehow they survived, but as it seems whoever is responsible for the murders will never rest until he kills them too.

So in come Dr. Maura Isles and detective Jane Rizolli of the Boston PD, who are called in on the scene of a crime, in a rich neighborhood of the city. A massacre took place there, during which only a kid survived; one of the three. Rizolli is not running point in this case but detective Darren Crow does, someone whom the former really not likes. He’s too arrogant for her taste, too fast to jump to conclusions and he’s in love with the TV cameras. He seems to be more interested in showing his face to the public than fighting crime.

As Maura is getting ready to depart for the wilderness of Maine where she’s to meet, Julian “Rat” Atkins, a boy with whom she’s been through a lot just a year earlier, Jane is left behind to solve the crime under the supervision of Crowe, who seems to think that he knows who the perp is right from the start.

However, things are not exactly as simple as they seem. The leads could be misleading and it’s obvious that there’s more to the story than a robbery that has gone wrong. Jane has to follow her gut feeling to sort things out, a gut feeling that will make her travel far and away time and again, while she’ll also have to cope with some of the problems created by the return of her father into their lives, take care of her now two year old girl, and help Maura out with some questions that arise concerning the place she’s visiting.

In this story we have a blood-thirsty avenger, secret societies, brilliant kids, tortured psyches, secrets and lies and plenty of action, which keeps the reader’s interest alive from beginning to end, and it’s exactly then that it poses a question that more often than not arises into the readers minds too: Who’s going to protect us from the protectors?

One of the best thrillers of the year.

Reviews of books by the same author:

John Doe
The Silent Girl

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Review: Stranger in the Room by Amanda Kyle Williams

I have first met the heroine of Stranger in the Room, PI Keye Street, in the author’s previous novel The Stranger You Seek (review here) and I really liked her.

Keye is not your usual kind of detective. She’s an ex-alcoholic, still struggling with her addiction, who used to work for the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI, and has degrees both in criminology and psychology; she’s tough; and she’s street smart, stubborn and absolutely funny.

And, finally, she believes what she wants to believe, until she’s proven wrong. Alas, in one of the cases that she’s called to investigate in this novel, she’s bound to be proven dead wrong, but perhaps that’s only because it has to do with family.

It all begins when her cousin Miki calls and asks for her help. She thinks that she’s been stalked. She can hear strange noises in and around her house, more often than not she can feel someone watching her, and just the other night she saw a man in her home.

Well, Keye, doesn’t take Miki, who’s a famous photographer, seriously at first, but when the body of a dead old man is found hanging in her house, she has no choice but to admit that she was wrong. But is that the work of a stalker, or of just some sick bastard?

That’s the big question, but as she’s struggling to make ends meet, she can’t spare the time to give it too much thought. For starters she has to visit a mountain community where strange things seem to happen when it comes to the local funeral home and crematory, and she also has to find a “runner”, someone who jumped bail.

While all these things happen, no one would dare say that her boyfriend’s life is less complicated. Aaron Rauser, who’s a homicide detective, has a few open cases on his desk, and as if these are not enough, now he’s also called to investigate the death of the man found in Miki’s home, as well as the murder of a young athlete, a thirteen year old kid.

Given the above, one would expect that their relationship would be complicated, but it’s nothing but. They respect each other’s work and space, and they appreciate each other’s intellect and capabilities. Keye would feel lost without Rauser, not only because, “He thinks I’m gorgeous, so I’m okay with his blurred vision”, but also because she knows that he’ll always be there for her.

Well, as the action starts gathering pace and corpses accumulate, the two of them will have to work together to solve at least the current cases, while at the same time they’ll have to get ready to spend some quality time with Keye’s somewhat unconventional parents and take care of Miki, as well as Neil – her once time employee and soon to be partner, who’s been unlucky enough to get in the way of a bullet.

The plot is great and so is the story, but what I mostly enjoyed in this book are the characters, even when they appear for brief cameo’s, like that old nosy and openly racist lady, Mary Kate Stargell; like Keye and her amazing sense of humor; like Neil, who’s almost always high; like Miki, who’s seen so much death and turned that death into art; and like Rauser, that quiet force of a man who more often than not sets the rules, but never seems to try too hard to impose them.

The crimes may serve as the vehicles, but it’s the passengers that make this book a hell of a ride.

The book comes out August 21, 2012.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: A Bloody Storm by Richard Castle

A Bloody Storm, the third and final installment in this series is just as action-packed and well-written as the previous ones.

It all begins in Oxford, England, when Derrick Storm and FBI agent April Showers escape barely alive after a car chase and a confrontation, with a man and a woman, who were supposed to be the faithful friends and allies of oligarch Ivan Petrov, but who were actually under the payroll of Russian president Barkovsky.

Storm checks Showers, who’s injured into a hospital, before heading straight back to Washington to meet his ex -and now temporary- boss, Jedidiah Jones, director of the National Clandestine Service. There he finds out that he’s not to remain in the city for long, since he needs to find the 60 billions’ worth of gold, that all the fuss was all about, before it falls into the hands of Barkovsky. For this reason he needs to oversee a team consisting of another “dead” agent called Casper, a Russian geologist that goes by the name of Oscar, and Dilya, an Uzbekistani woman and CIA asset.

In the meantime Showers, though wounded, has not yet left all her trouble behind, since as she’s driven towards a military base from which she’s supposed to fly to the U.S. she’s abducted by the Russians.

From the very beginning until the very end of this story, all the protagonists seem to be playing a game of cat and mouse with each other. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else, nothing is for granted, and there’s definitely a traitor on the loose, whose identity we’ll only come to find out just before the end.

But the surprises don’t stop there. Castle likes to keep the reader guessing and he does that very well. The pace is fast, the twists and turns plentiful and there’s some romance lurking in the shadows as well.

I would say that, in the end, these three volumes make a very good, though kind of short novel, which will undoubtedly leave his fans satisfied.

Reviews of the two previous volumes:

A Brewing Storm
A Raging Storm

Friday, August 10, 2012

Maria Polidouri - And Among You…

And among you now am I, without a purpose, resigned,
Weak. Badly I was fooled and I was robbed even
Of my thoughts; my passions I sing and I remain
With a phantom in my gaze and a desire on the lips.

In love; my little heart is overwhelmed with the portion
That they gave me as I lay in sleep and but a girl.
This reminiscence I relive as a dead man fills
With coquettishness a tiny corner of my being.

© For the translation: Lakis Fourouklas

Image taken from here

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Comics Review: Batula by Steven T. Seagle and Marco Cinello

“What happens when a fruit bat gets bitten by a vampire? He’s transformed into the vampire bat hero his colony might need the most… Batula.”

Batula is a short illustrated story for young readers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it cannot be enjoyed just as much by older children, like me. I wouldn’t say that this is a graphic novel but rather a fairytale of sorts.

The main protagonist is Livingston, who not just because of his name reminds us of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, since like his predecessor is a man, or rather a bat, that looks for something else in his life, who tries to make something better of his self.

Livingston lives in an orchard with the rest of his tribe and if he stands out for something is that he doesn’t stand out for anything. Bart is the one who says the funniest stories; Auggie is the best at hanging upside-down; and Drina, oh Drina, is the bat of his dreams; a bat that pays no attention to him whatsoever.

So, what is a bat to do? Well, ignoring the wise advice of others, he decides to fly to the city of men. Once there the first person he encounters is a bat in captivity. What an unusual fellow that is; he’s never seen anyone like him. The latter, that goes by the name of Vlad, urges him to open the cage and set him free, and he obeys. What does he get in exchange? The bite that will turn him into a vampire.

Livingston, who will soon return to the orchard, will start little by little changing. He’ll get stronger and a little more confident, but at the same time he’ll stop enjoying the most precious of gifts, the fruits, and will crave for meat instead. He feels that he’s becoming something that he doesn’t like, and even though he at last catches the eye of Drina, he decides that it will be better if he leaves again.

So, off he goes. This journey though will prove different from the first one, since during it he will meet Wulf, the werewolf spider, who will help him accept his new reality and make him see how he can use his newfound powers for the purpose of good. And sooner rather than later something will happen that will make him realize that once you start to like who you are, the others will like you too.

A short and beautifully written and illustrated story that has something to say to the reader; and that it does, in a graceful manner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: John Doe by Tess Gerritsen

John Doe is an eBook short. It tells the story about how Dr. Maura Isles came to be the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

It all begins a beautiful night in Boston when Dr. Isles attends a cocktail party at the Museum of Science. She doesn’t really want to be there, but since she’s in the museum’s committee and the event is a benefit, she has no choice.

She’s bored at first but things seem to get better when she’s approached by a handsome man called Eli Kilgour, who also happens to be a generous donor. Soon enough they start talking and flirting and one thing leads to another and then, nothing.

Maura wakes up the next day in her living room having a really bad headache and feeling dizzy, but unable to recall what really happened the night before. Her last memory is that of having a drink with Kilgour. How did she get home? Did they make love? And, what the hell is going on?

The last question is what this story is all about. What happened between her leaving the party and waking up this morning? Well, maybe Jane Rizzoli has the answers, as she shows up at her door just to let her know that the body of an unidentified man has been found in a park, and in whose pocket they have found one of her professional cards.

Jane will show the shocked Maura a picture of the victim who will turn out to be Eli Kilgour. He’s been stabbed several times and apart from Dr. Isles no one else seems to have been in contact with him.

Did she kill him? She can’t recall. Her lapses of memory can only mean one thing, that she’s been drugged. But when did that happen? And why? Is someone trying to frame her for murder?

Maura trusts Jane and her partners but she can’t sit still and let them do all the work, because she simply has to know the truth. As time goes by though things become more complicated. As it turns out the man was not who he was pretending to be, and her case is in some way connected with some others that took place in the past.

There’s a puzzle to be solved and the pieces, sooner or later, will come one after the other together. And the end will arrive with a bang. Great plot and beautiful storytelling.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Dragon Age: The Silent Grove by David Gaider, Alexander Freed and Chad Hardin

Dragon Age: The Silent Grove that comes out today is one of those graphic novels that take the reader on a long but beautiful journey into the not so bright worlds of the creators’ imagination.

In this dark tale one can find just about everything, apart from romance, but maybe that’s to come in a future volume.

This is the story of King Alistair, an unwilling King, and his quest to discover the whereabouts of his missing father, King Maric. Alistair never wanted to be a king, he wasn’t supposed to be one either and he: “never asked for an easy life – fruit every morning, servants cleaning my feet, bedclothes free from crawling things.  I certainly wasn’t raised to expect it.”

Why not? Because his mother was nothing but a servant. As for the rightful heir to the throne, King Cailan, he died a decade ago. But can a reluctant king be a good king? Well, perhaps he can, since for the past few years his homeland, the nation of Fereldin had known an unprecedented period of stability and prosperity. That, however, was not enough to make Alistair happy.

And now, for the first time in years, he may at last have a chance to set things straight, for one and for all, as he receives some information about his father. In order to find out more he has to travel to the northern port city of Antiva. Instead of ordering an army to follow in his footsteps, or take along some faithful soldiers, he decides to hire a ferocious and beautiful woman that goes by the name Isabela, who’s a pirate, and her traveling companion, the dwarf Varric Tethras, to accompany him.

Antiva though is not going to be their final destination, since once there they receive yet another piece of info, by Prince Claudio Valisti, a man with an agenda, that will first lead them to Velabanchel prison and then forwards to the Silent Grove, an enchanted place, where they are destined to meet Yavana, the Witch of the Wilds, and confront their worst foes and fears.

During the long journey the authors and the illustrator, do a great job in describing to the reader how Alistair, the center of this special universe, feels at any given moment, and what one sees is a sad man. What can he do to get over his melancholia? Is it possible for him to embrace his destiny? Can he depend on anyone else but himself? And can he remain true to his purpose from beginning to end?

This is a story of quite a few twists and turns that keep it going unperturbed from the first page to the very last. The passions of the protagonists come alive on the page, through wonderful words and beautifully drawn images, which make us empathize with them. And if there’s a message in here it’s this one: people can sometimes pleasantly surprise you, as they, for better or for worse, surprise Alistair.

If you love fantasy you will love this graphic novel.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: Sam Capra’s Last Chance by Jeff Abbott

We get to learn right from the start that this story takes place between the events of the novels Adrenaline and The Last Minute.

Well, that’s good to know, but also maybe at the same time not so good at all, since the author does such a good work with Sam Capra’s Last Chance that in the end he just leaves you hungry for more. Of course, the more you seek will come, but not until his new novel, The Last Minute, which I already have, but I didn’t get the chance to read quite yet.

To tell you the truth this is the first time I’ve read anything by Jeff Abbott and this ebook short just took my breath away. It’s not only its pace, it’s not just the action, it’s not even the troubled psyche of his protagonist that made me turn the pages like crazy; it’s the whole package.

The story starts with a bang: A rooftop chase during which Sam Capra, the owner of thirty bars all over the world, and ex-CIA agent, tries to avoid getting killed by the man whose phone he’s stolen and whom he’s just shot on the shoulder.

Sam thinks that the man’s phone holds the secret of the identity of the woman who has recently kidnapped his infant son, Daniel and he’ll stop at nothing in order to get him back. Well, the chase doesn’t last for long, as mysterious Mila comes to his rescue; she brings the man down with a hit on the head, and thus serenity for once again prevails over the night streets of Strasbourg, France, where the adventure begins.

A brief interrogation will reveal that the man is the member of an international crime ring, and Sam’s mortal enemies, called the Nine Suns. So, did they kidnap his son to get back at him or did they get the child in order to sell it?

Sam is not about to sit back and wait for the answers to come and find him. Following a tip by his hostage, whom he promised to protect, he’ll travel to London, where he’ll soon be followed by Mila, to find a woman that goes by the name of Anna.

While there they will both come almost face to face with the woman, but also have a couple of encounters with her goons, something that will, for some reason, scare her away. But where will she go next? And does she have Daniel with her?

The answers to the aforementioned questions will be found in The Last Minute, fifty pages of which you can read in this ebook.

In here we have a great plot, amazing pace and well-drafted characters for which I’d really like to learn more about. Normally I would have given it five stars, but I was so eager to find out what happens next in the end that I’ve decided that four would suffice; until I read the novel, that is.